Is it time to reimagine your product / service?

In his on stage interview with Michael Arrington (at the Crunchies), Mark Zuckerberg made the most insightful observation of the evening. On being asked about privacy, Mark said that Facebook default settings from private to public since that is what it would have been like if it started today. Things were very different when they started 6 years ago in his dorm at Harvard. People were questioning the basic concept – why should I share my info on the web. Things have changed a lot since then. People share a lot of their life online on different places on the web.

If Facebook started today, they would take where the web is today into account. The default would be public rather than private. And this is why they changed defaults from private to public since they want service to remain relevant. Mark added that it was not an easy move – from a technical or a user perspective – to change a service with 300 million users on such a core dimension.

I have been very critical of Facebook’s change from private to public, but as a owner of a web service, I completely understand where Mark is coming from. How many of us are stuck at the point where we started – not been able to imagine what our service would be like if we started today. Our services are vintage the year which they started. Flickr is vintage 2004 when it started. Basecamp is vintage 2004. Delicious is vintage 2005. While they remain great services, there has been no re-imagining of the service so that it fits into the web of 2009-2010.

The problem with being the vintage of your launch year is that the domain gets reimagined. You get left behind even if you are doing everything right. This is the classic problem that so many companies face – they are innovative when they launch. They continue on the path they launch with, which they get traction with initially. At a certain point, they are executing so well, that they get left behind. Their success contains the seeds of their becoming obselete.

Facebook is avoiding that problem by constantly imagining what it would be like if it launched today. It might face criticisms and even loose some users with such moves, but it fits better into the web today. And ultimately this is why Facebook will survive and prosper.

Ask yourself – what would my service be like if it launched today? Is it substantially different than what you are now? It might be time to reimagine it.

39 responses to “Is it time to reimagine your product / service?

  1. From the “what is best for the user” view, his approach is wrong. Today people thirst for privacy more than ever after seeing every dot com use and abuse their personal information. It is stunning that he is completely blind to this. I thought he would mature, but his characteristic mega-ego still shines brightly.

    Zuckerberg wants to market, and thus make money off of your personal information. He could care less about the user. Which is always a sign that someone else will eventually overtake them.

  2. @john b

    I would agree that this is a risky move and will alienate many users and even lead to their leaving the service. Additionally, the communication regarding this move could have been much better. No doubts on that score.

    Regardless, it does make Facebook fit better in an era where sharing on the web is a norm.

    I think that is the other side of reimagining a service – you might isolate current users, who are used to a particular way of doing things. Thats a risk the company has to take.

    • I agree that many users don’t like change…you read it on their FB posts every day. They, and every other online forum need to keep looking for ways to stay relevant and how to meet the needs of their users. Anytime FB makes a change though…the wall postings flare up. They really need to adjust to what the users want to keep them. For example…FB made a ‘like’ button but not a ‘dislike’ button. People have made new groups like “join if you want a Dislike button!”

  3. Mark’s thinking of “imagining what it would be like if it launched today” is a great idea, and it’s true, so many start-ups have in the past just continued along there path that they first had success with, and that in itself isn’t wrong, but unless you innovate and be a little daring, you will be over taken by the next big thing, even though some people feel that is inevitable.

  4. Agree with John B. Though the idea of re-imagining your product or service is critical for continued success, extending that logic to something like privacy is applying that logic a bit loosely. In fact the way they’ve handled the whole privacy issue makes them seem a bit desperate to get people to open up their activities to the rest of the world. Zuckerberg wants more traction for Facebook and the more he gets people to expose their activities the more Facebook gets around. Wrapping that prerogative in concepts of reimagination seems unnecessary. Facebook should do a much better job of making their privacy options more easy to understand and set.

    • Mark is an entrepreneur. of course he wants more traction for Facebook. Thats understandable.

      Having said that, facebook could definitely do a better job of making their privacy options more easy to understand. No arguments there.

  5. This is an interesting and nuanced topic.

    On the one hand, I totally see the value of taking a fresh look at your industry and remaining relevant. On the other hand, there’s the risk of changing a core element that is at the core of your success.

    I’m not particularly troubled by Facebook’s private->public decision, but I do think it is highly risky. Though a tad extreme, what if Google woke up one morning and say “Hey, we know we started with this whole ‘Don’t Be Evil’ thing, but in today’s world, that’s not really what people care about…people today expect us to do X’.

    Having said that, I lean more towards taking the risk and trying to remain relevant. I think most companies err too much on the side of maintaining the status quo — not always because it’s “right”, but because it’s comfortable.

    • @dharmesh – nice to see you in this thread.

      Agree – it is a highly risky decision. But then Facebook is always taking highly risky decisions. I just never quite understood the thinking behind the constant risk taking earlier.

      Currently the newest paradigm is Twitter and everyone else is catching up. It will be interesting what Twitter does as the next paradigm emerges.

  6. I’d buy this argument for Flickr, Delicious et al. However to cloak what makes FB money, in reimagining, is a bit disingenuous.

    One of the core ideas for any startup is to stand in the shoes of your (most important) customers. If that is so, then FB needs to check with the customer and not try to squash the dissident voices.

    For example, http://bit.ly/8U1gGX, where the user has the (legal) right to delete all his profiles, messages and social media ties. FB has come up with an interesting take cloaked in their terms of service, but really protecting their turf.

  7. New Coke was not the better Coke.

  8. Go for CLASSIC.

    Get there, and STAY CLASSIC.

    Do whatever it takes to stay classic, and don’t waver from that which made you classic.

    If you aren’t making money, something is probably wrong.

    • hmm… did i work with you at eBay for a few years?

      they seemed to like CLASSIC. they stayed that way… and then got CRUSHED by Google, Amazon, and others.

      seriously, what an incredibly lazy attitude… maybe ok for an american auto company, but not for an internet company.

  9. Nice post, but lose not loose. Thanks.

  10. I would agree with Mark’s view in that we are living in the virtual world here. When people create an account on social networking sites like facebook, it is just to let their friends know what major events are taking place in their life by sharing their photos, messages, videos. If anybody likes privacy, why do he/she wants to share the information with the world?

    Agreed, there may be the stuff which you may want to share with just bunch of your friends and that’s why privacy options are there! You can not just blindly trust the defaults on the net. I do believe though that facebook could’ve handled the privacy issue by making settings a bit more explicit.

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  12. One thing I am struglling to understand .. What would happen to facebook ad manager and google adwords after public setting and real time search integration correspondingly? They are opening up to canny marketer, who not like to miss any freebies

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  14. Nice post. :)

    I’m wondering how to get a post featured on wordpress homepage. Did you notify/apply wordpress admin in any way to consider sticking your post as featured?

  15. John B.
    // January 9, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Reply From the what is best for the user view, his approach is wrong. Today people thirst for privacy more than ever after seeing every dot com use and abuse their personal information. It is stunning that he is completely blind to this. I thought he would mature, but his characteristic mega-ego still shines brightly.Zuckerberg wants to market, and thus make money off of your personal information. He could care less about the user. Which is always a sign that someone else will eventually overtake them.

  16. I have two nieces who tired of the whole social networking razmatazz and disconnected their myspace and facebook accounts recently.

    Personally, I prefer browsing flickr and message boards just the way they are at my own leisure, and leaving my real life to myself and close friends.

    We’ll see how long this anti-privacy phase lasts, ha.

  17. I don’t agree with facebook’s shift to making more information public, especially with users who live in more politically charged countries. However, Rashmi’s view on not getting locked down to your original business model is dead on. I can’t imagine what it’d be like if apple had never made the shift to music, iPods and iPhones. As a marketing consultant who advises clients on new product launches, I see this type of “stuck in the past” mentality all the time.

  18. Thanks for the article! It really made me think, especially since I’m starting my company this year… I REALLY have to take this into consideration!

  19. Reimagination or, stated differently, evolution.

    Ultimately, FaceBook or any company that wants to be successful, has to continue to evolve and adjust to changes in the environment and expectations of its customers or face extinction.

    • Exactly, the market is supposed to take care of things like this. Too much re-imagining without listening to customers/the market result in things like New Coke. Or Vista.

      With respect to Facebook, is there any hard evidence that people are leaving in droves because of their privacy policy?

  20. I disagree. If you mean in the long term most tech businesses get left behind, you might have a point as even microsoft and ibm aren’t the innovative companies they used to be. However, they’re still successful.

    If you mean, you have to keep watching your market and anticipate it’s direction, that’s a given…

    And really do you think Facebook will be so amazing in 5 years? If I were to bet, I’d say yes, but look what happened to MySpace and AOL. Look how quickly twitter grew. So don’t be so sure.

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  23. the option to have your profile public is discretionary right? meaning you may still opt to set it private.

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  26. I think we have both spectrums in that we have one school of thought which want certain information to remin private and another school of thought who do not really care if their information is in the public domain and I think there is room for both domains in the social media space.

  27. For all of those who are against Zuckerberg and Co.’s decision to push into the public realm, please, stop kidding yourselves.

    It’s a simple (almost too simple) of a decision to do so. You are likely over analyzing the situation entirely and clouding the real matter at hand. The web is moving…FAST! While Facebook succeeded as a “walled garden” in it’s ‘college years’ it is now the biggest social network in history. It has to continue to evolve.

    So while you sign several facebook petitions and join the “1,000,000 strong against the new facebook” groups, keep in mind that you are just devaluing the facebook community at large with your near-sightedness. Will you guys really resist every and all changes? When will it end?

    Facebook just added a new feature. It’s called “Delete Account”.

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  31. thanks for share man

  32. A shame you started with the Zuck/Facebook example (it is a good example) as is seems to drawn many off of the point. Great post and a real challenge for many as vintage may now be defined in YC/techstars class seasons not years. You must constantly re-imagine your service. It may not always create a change but if your A/B testing of ideas (product features, business models, sacred cows) stops, you stop learning from your customers and for many that is exactly what got them where they are.

  33. Rashmi, Do you want to reimagine SlideShare? Let me know your thoughts about SlideShare 2.0.

    Shazeeye